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Republic Bank’s West Mall branch was closed for sanitisation yesterday after the daughter of one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Rishard Khan

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The clock is ticking for the Ministry of Health after fears over the local transmission of COVID-19 continued to grow yesterday, following the announcement that Republic Bank’s West Mall branch was forced to close because the daughter of an employee was the latest person to contract the virus in T&T.

The child was patient 141 and is feared to have contracted it locally, just as was the case with patient 139. The ministry is now doing contact tracing on the two female patients so that they can test the persons they may have come into contact with before learning they had the virus.

Speaking during the ministry’s virtual press conference yesterday, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh described the situation as “concerning” but assured it was not “cause for panic”.

“What we are doing now is behaving as if there is a real possibility that these cases are linked to other cases,” Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said, cautious not to make any conclusion on their classification of the virus’ spread in the country.

Parasram said he would await the results of the contact tracing investigations on the two cases.

“At this stage, we are dealing with local cases until proven otherwise, as we have done for case 116, 117 just before we began to have a host of imported cases. So we are treating it as a local case until proven otherwise – meaning until we can find an external link,” he said.

The CMO said most of the primary contacts of patient 139 had been swabbed and tested. Patient 139 is a 63-year-old woman who was ill for over a week and did not self-isolate and went out into public. He said they had already received the initial results on members of her household.

“Out of the eight people we have all negatives…those people would now be followed up for an additional 14 days from the time the individual who was positive was removed from the home. They would now be under strict home quarantine being monitored by both the CMOH as well as the TTPS for the next 14 days to ensure that we follow them up for the full time and if symptoms develop, they would be swabbed at that time again,” Parasram said.

He also said of patient 139’s eight primary contacts, three left for Tobago on Monday before the infection was detected. They have since been tested and quarantined in Tobago. Out of the nine coworkers of patient 139, Parasram said seven had been contacted and swabbed to date. He anticipated the remaining two would have been contacted yesterday.

Deyalsingh said surveillance footage from the Republic branch showed the mother and daughter closely interacting with some 11 employees. The employees were contacted and swabbed, he said, adding the branch was also closed for two days for sanitisation.

“We have gotten some negative results. So the primary contacts, being parents etc, we’ve gotten the results for some of them which are later yesterday (Wednesday evening),” he said.

“There are fewer households involved in this case than the other case (patient 139) so it’s a smaller group of people in terms of exposure.”

Despite the latest developments, the ministry is confident in the measures implemented thus far to protect the population.

Asked if the development raised any concerns for students who were back at school and candidates campaigning for the upcoming General Election, both Deyalsingh and Parasram referred to the established guidelines for both groups.

See Editorial on page 12